Arts & Entertainment Novel Makes Warhol Look Like a Prophet

Christopher Beha
Ecco, 288 pages, 978-0062322463
* * * ½

In 1968, Andy Warhol remarked, “In the future everyone will be world-famous for fifteen minutes.” What seemed trite then seems prescient in the age of reality television, media confessionals, game shows, instant news, the Internet, and marketers whose sole purpose is to generate buzz. Audiences for shows such as The Voice and American Idol birth a new star every week and command it to supernova the next. Christopher Beha’s breezy novel Arts and Entertainments is a topical comedy that takes on this world. It’s based on a consideration of what might happen if a person got trapped in an autobiographical reality television (RT) show he could neither control nor exit.

Enter Eddie Hartley, a guy so striking in appearance that even street bums call him “Handsome Eddie.” He’s the kind of guy who looks good on stage and screen so, naturally, he became an actor. The problem was that Eddie was a terrible thespian. Even his wife, Susan, says so and Eddie knows it’s true. That’s why he gave up performance to teach acting at the private New York City Catholic school in which he was once a student. At age 33, Eddie is years removed from the spotlight and nearly broke. There’s no way he and Susan can afford the expensive fertility treatments she hopes can bring a child into their marriage. About the only thing Eddie has going for him is that lots of people know he once lived with actress Martha Martin, who is definitely the media buzz girl of the moment. She’s so gorgeous (and ubiquitous) that horn dogs Google her hoping to find naked photos of her glorious body. There aren’t, but there are lots of people who’d pay a lot of money to get their mitts on one. As it so happens, Eddie and Martha made a sex tape early in their relationship. This, as we know, won’t end well!

Eddie’s compromised morals bring him cash, but the rest of his life spirals out of control when Susan is outraged. Or should I say recruited? She throws Eddie out and options her marital discord to a RT company that follows her every movement. Before Eddie knows what hit him, he’s camera fodder as well; he’s the bum in Susan’s RT melodrama. Martha’s as well. Even worse, Eddie is inside a story he doesn’t write, approve, produce, or direct, so the only thing he can think of to do is to join the RT team and hope he can bend the story to his advantage. But once he does this, how can Eddie tell what’s real and what’s TV? Where’s the off ramp?

Beha’s novel is the classic one-trick pony, but it’s the kind of horse you can’t stop watching—just like those trashy RT shows we write off as “guilty pleasures.” There are all sorts of ways one could interpret this book, the most obvious of which is self-reflection on the question of what any one of us would trade for fame. Another would be to drag out your undergrad Philosophy 101 notes and brush up on Parmenides, Kant, Descartes, and all those other folks who wrestled with big ontological questions. Or we could put on a Lit Crit hat and note that Beha’s conversational style isn’t exactly Steinbeck-like in majesty or command of prose. But any attempt to intellectualize this book misses the point: it’s supposed to be shallow. How weighty can one get in a zero gravity culture? Next up: Two miracles are attributed to Andy Warhol and he is proclaimed a saint.  Rob Weir   

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